Minor British Institutions: Swarfega

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The Independent Online

The really delightful thing about Swarfega, apart from its ability to get mucky hands clean, is that it makes no concessions to fashion or marketing, and yet is supremely successful. This after all, is a £135m business, or at least it was a few years ago when the firm went through its latest change of ownership.

The name sounds like a tropical disease, the packaging is wilfully unattractive, the stuff looks like ectoplasm and yet every mechanic and gardener in the land knows that it's all you need when it's time for dinner.

All very macho – but did you realise that it was originally formulated 63 years ago to clean ladies' silk stockings? Audley Bowdler Williamson, an industrial chemist from Derbyshire was responsible for the snot-like miracle cleaner, though he seems not to have made a huge fortune personally from his invention.

The equally lovely-sounding Tufanega is a more modern version, peach-coloured and with added polymer grit.

A kilo jar of Swarfega costs around £6.99.